A Guide to Atrial Fibrillation

What is Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)?

 

Atrial fibrillation is that condition, which interrupts a person’s heartbeat. Because of a malfunctioning in the electrical system of the heart, the atria (upper chambers) beat on a faster pace so that it brings a quivering feeling. Due to the same reason, the ventricles (lower chambers) start beating out of sync. AFib increases the risk of heart failure and stroke.

A Guide to Atrial Fibrillation

Not the Regular Heart Rate

The atria and the ventricles work in coordination so that the heart pumps blood in a consistent manner but if there is AFib, this does not happen. Inconsistent hear beats can lead to fast hear rate, somewhere around 100-175 beats per minute while the regular is 60-100 beats per minute.

Cautionary Signals

In most of the cases, there are no clear symptoms of AFib but here are some hidden signs:

  • A fast beating and hammering heart
  • Pain in the chest
  • An irregular pulse
  • Shortness of breath
  • A feeling that the heart is fluttering

Effects

During AFib as the blood does not move properly all throughout the body, one can feel the following:

  • Breathlessness
  • Faint/Dizzy feeling
  • Fatigued and feeble

In an emergency

Although AFib is not a major trouble all the time but in these cases it can be:

  • Unbearable pain in the chest
  • Symptoms of a stroke such as unclear speech of numbness
  • Feeling Faint
  • Uneven pulse

Larger Risk of Stroke

When the heart is not pumping blood properly, the blood moves slowly sometimes making pool that can lead to the formation of blood clots. If such a thing happens, the clot slowly travels via bloodstream to the brain where it can get stuck, causing a stroke. Those who are suffering from AFib, they are five times more likely to suffer from one.

What are its causes?

There are a number of conditions that put strain on your heart:

  • Heart failure
  • High blood pressure
  • Problems in heart valves
  • Heart attack and coronary artery disease
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Infections like pneumonia

Who can suffer from AFib?

These people are at higher risks:

  • You are above 60 years of age
  • You are a male and are white
  • If your close family was or is suffering from it

Causes that can be controlled

These causes of AFib can easily be controlled:

  • Obesity or being overweight
  • Smoking
  • Excessive intake of alcohol
  • Intake of some prescribed drugs like albuterol
  • Stimulants, including certain illegal drugs

Post Heart Surgery

Heart surgeries such as coronary artery bypass can lead to AFib. In case this condition arises, the person is in for other kind of complications as well. A fortunate thing about this kind of AFib is that it does not stay for long.

Lone AFib

When this condition without any of the obvious causes, it is termed as lone AFib. This is generally seen in people who are less than 65 years of age. If fast heartbeat is causing troublesome symptoms, a treatment becomes necessary. Your doctor might recommend a treatment to lower the risk of stroke.

Diagnosed With ECG

AFib can be confirmed with an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG). A special kind of a machine senses and then records the electrical activity of one’s heart so that the doctor can see to what the problem in the heart’s rhythm is. An ECG can be conducted in the doctor’s clinic.

Other Tests

If AFib is detected with EKG/ECG, the doctor might conduct further tests. In order to see the damage to the valve or any sign of a heart failure, the doctor might conduct an ultrasound or echocardiogram. A stress test might also be done the working of the heart during stressed times. Tests can also be conducted to search for the casus of AFib.

Duration of AFib

When AFib is developed for the first time, the condition may just come and go. Fort the first few weeks, one’s heart beat might be irregular for duration of a few seconds. In case the condition has come due to pneumonia, thyroid problem of any other treatable problem, it goes away when the cause is treated. However, in some cases, the rhythm of one’s heart might not become normal again.

Cardioversion

Cardioversion is a medical procedure using which the doctor tries to being your heart rhythm to normal by using medication or electric shock. However, a person has been experiencing AFib for over 48 hours; this process might aggravate the chances of a stroke. The patient needs to take blood thinner medicine before and after several weeks of cardioversion.

Medication

If AFib condition is back after cardioversion or if the symptoms are not really strong, the condition can be controlled with medicines. The patient’s heartbeat remains consistent by consumption of such drugs that control the rhythm. Rate control medicines also keeps your heart from beating at a fast pace. Drugs known as anticoagulents or daily aspirin or blood thinner can help in preventing clots and also lowers the chances of a stroke.

Ablation

The doctor conducts a tiny probe through a person’s blood vessel to his heart and makes use of radio frequency energy or extreme cold or laser for the destruction of that tissue which is creating problem. Though open heart surgery is not needed, the process carries certain risks. Ablation is required only in those cases where medicines and cardioversion have not helped.

Surgery

During maze procedure, an arrangement of small cuts is made by the doctor on patient’s heart for creating scar tissue. As electrical signals cannot be passed through these scars, they stop AFib. While at some places this is done at the time of open heart surgery, some medical institutions make smaller opening so that there is less stress on one’s body.

Pacemaker

Pacemaker is a tiny battery-powered device that can send electrical signals for controlling the heart rate. It is best for people whose heart beats slowly along with bringing relief from breathlessness and tiredness. Ablation might be required one after the other, as per where the tissue is. Getting a pacemaker in the chest is known to be a minor surgery that generally takes an hour’s time.

Breathing with AFib

In a number of cases, AFib does not happen with the person’s daily life. While others experience problems like fainting, weakness and shortness of breath.

Prevention

Follow these healthy habits to keep away from heart diseases and AFib:

  • Regular exercising
  • Eating a nutritious diet including fish
  • Avoid smoke and passive smoke too
  • Control blood pressure

Checking Pulse Monthly

AFib can be a cause of a stroke or any other similar kind of serious problem before it shows its symptoms. In order to keep a track of your irregular heartbeat, check your pulse at least once a month, especially if you are above 40 or notice any other risk factor of stroke. Consult your doctor if you notice any discrepancy in your heart rhythm.

Also read:
A visual guide to heart disease

10 Tips for a Healthy Heart

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